Festus Akanbi notes that as memories of the Nigerian Navy’s recent hosting of Exercise Obangame Express 2023 linger, the program’s accomplishments demonstrate the Nigerian Navy’s commitment to advancing regional and multinational cooperation to sustainably secure Nigeria’s maritime environment and the larger Gulf of Guinea, as reported by The Day Live.
Exercise Obangame Express 2023
Exercise Obangame Express 2023, the largest international maritime exercise in Western and Central Africa, was hosted by the Nigerian Navy to begin this year on a significant note in cooperation with US Africa Command and US Naval Forces Europe and Africa.
32 nations from the Gulf of Guinea and beyond participated in this year’s edition in an effort to “enhance regional collaboration, information-sharing methods, and tactical interdiction skills.”
Nigeria will mark one year when the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) confirmed the country’s removal from the Global List of Piracy-prone countries in March, just one month after the conclusion of Exercise Obangame Express 2023. This accomplishment followed the IMB’s Global Piracy Report from July 2021, which revealed that Nigeria had seen its fewest instances of piracy and maritime robbery against ships in 27 years.
These outstanding accomplishments are the result of the Buhari administration’s historically large investments in naval and marine security, made possible by programmes like the Falcon Eye Maritime Domain Awareness System, which President Buhari launched in 2021.
Other investments include the purchase of many new platforms, such as the Landing Ship Tank (LST) NNS KADA, whose first operational mission was to support the ECOWAS Stabilization Force in Guinea Bissau in August 2022, and the brand-new Hydrographic Survey Ship, NNS LANA.
The Naval Dockyard Limited in Lagos is currently building two brand-new Seaward Defence Boats (SDBs). The keel-laying Ceremony for two 76-meter Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) took place in Turkey at the same time, in September 2022.
The Nigerian Navy began Operation Dakatar Da Barawo, one of its largest operations in years, to stop crude oil theft and vandalism in the creeks of the Niger Delta, weeks after the March 2022 IMB declaration that Nigeria had been removed from the Piracy List.
The joint venture between the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Limited and the operation has subsequently started to bear fruit. With hundreds of arrests, more than N80 billion worth of stolen petroleum products has so far been discovered or recovered. Notably, oil output, which had been falling since the beginning of 2022, reversed course and started to steadily rise from October, an accomplishment that has been universally praised by all parties involved.
In recent remarks, the Hon. Timipre Sylva, Minister of State for Petroleum, remarked, “I am glad to say that there is a major improvement in crude oil production, with both Nigerians and the international community appreciating the improvement.”
Accomplishing the goal
Vice Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo, the Chief of Naval Staff, has repeatedly expressed his resolve to accomplish this goal and his gratitude to President Buhari for providing the funds and resources to document the significant advancements being made in the struggle against maritime piracy and criminality.
One of the high points in the fight against maritime crime was the MT Heroic Idun, a Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC), being intercepted in August 2022. This quick reaction prevented an unauthorised entry into a working Nigerian oilfield.
The Nigerian Navy was able to inform Equatorial Guinea to seize the vessel, which had at that point sailed into its seas, by cooperating with its regional allies through the Yaoundé Architecture, a Gulf of Guinea maritime safety and security coordinating system comprising 19 countries.
It is interesting to note that two crucial operations centres within the Yaounde Architecture, the West Africa Regional Maritime Safety Centre (CRESMAO), based in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, and the ECOWAS Multinational Maritime Coordination Centre (MMCC) Zone E (covering Nigeria, Benin, Niger, and Togo), are currently run by Nigerian naval officers.
Detention and investigations
The ship owners paid a sizable fee following the detention and investigations by the Government of Equatorial Guinea, and it was then turned over to the Nigerian Navy and properly repatriated to Nigeria to face prosecution. The lawsuit is currently being heard in Port Harcourt by a Federal High Court.
The most well-known of the rogue ships captured by the Nigerian Navy in 2022 is MT Heroic Idun. Vice Admiral Gambo, the Chief of Naval Staff, asserted that “MT Heroic Idun’s arrest will act as a deterrent to others who are stealing our petroleum.”
However, the powerful owners and forces behind the VLCC have undoubtedly resisted the arrest and trial. They have been conducting an aggressive international disinformation campaign against the Nigerian government and navy. But the Chief of Naval Staff has made it very plain that he won’t be intimidated and that justice would be served through the Nigerian legal system in a fair and transparent manner.
The Nigerian Navy’s persistent efforts to strengthen regional and international cooperation to comprehensively and sustainably secure Nigeria’s maritime environment and the larger Gulf of Guinea are demonstrated by Nigeria’s hosting of Obangame Express to usher in the new year.
Collaborations expected to continue
The CNS and Naval Headquarters hosted delegations from the European Union, China National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corporation, the Defense Academy of the United Kingdom, the African Union, the International Seabed Authority (ISA), the European Security Academy, the Italian Defense firm, Leonardo, and the United States Navy Office of Security Cooperation, among many others, at the Naval Headquarters because of this unwavering commitment to partnership. The CNS also participated in Euro-Naval 2022, the Sixth Symposium of Chiefs of Staff of Navies of the Gulf of Guinea in Paris, France, and the XIII Trans-Regional Sea-Power Symposium in Venice, Italy, among other events, in this spirit of cooperation and participation.
He was given the title of Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR) by President Buhari in October 2022. A month later, he was in Banjul, Gambia, to accept the Africa Security Watch Awards and Conference’s Most Outstanding Naval Chief Award (ASWAC).
The collaborations are expected to continue in 2023; Obangame Express 2023 is just the beginning. Vice Admiral Gambo famously said, “Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is a success,” during the closing ceremony on February 3, 2023.
Nigeria has maintained its efforts to keep pirates out of its waterways. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) has recently removed the nation from its list of nations harbouring pirates as proof of this.
The Chief of Naval Staff praised the federal government’s commitment and decisive initiative on the Deep Blue Project to combat the threat of maritime insecurity on the waterways when he made the announcement last year at the Joint Nigeria-European Union collaborative ceremony held at the Western Naval Command in Apapa, Lagos.
He said, “The Nigerian Navy’s dedication to maritime security has paid off, and the Nigerian Navy has made significant progress in securing the Gulf of Guinea. Despite the fact that pirate activity in the Gulf of Guinea has reached an all-time low in more than ten years, Nigeria has continued to report victories in the fight against piracy.” The Nigerian Navy has consistently added new equipment and enhanced its capabilities, allowing it to retain a sizable fleet and conduct operations outside of its national waters, according to him.
According to Gambo, Nigeria’s navy is powerful and professional, has a long history, and has worked together with other Gulf of Guinea Navies to solve maritime security.
“A notable result from the collaboration is the arrest of 10 pirates whose jail terms were secured for hijacking a Chinese fishing vessel, FV HAI LU FENG II, off Cote D’Ivoire in May 2020,” he said.
Gambo said that a state of the art Maritime Domain Awareness facilities comprising the Falcon Eye and the Regional Maritime Awareness Capability Centres allow the Nigerian Navy to monitor its territorial waters and beyond.
Speaking on Nigeria’s exit from the piracy list, occasioned by the Nigerian Navy’s increased counter-security operations against maritime criminality, oil theft, and other attacks, Gambo vowed to “sustain the tempo of our Maritime Security Operations efforts”, adding that ”same will be extended to our neighbouring states to rid the entire Gulf of Guinea of acts of piracy and other criminal activities.”
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Source: This Day Live